Like I said, there isn’t a speaker’s race until somebody has filed papers. NOW there is a speaker’s race. Here is the announcement:

Austin, Texas, May 15, 2007—- State Representative Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) announced today that he has filed his candidacy paperwork for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for the 81st Regular Session which will begin in January, 2009.

Keffer said he will formerly announce his candidacy for Speaker at the Texas House Republican Caucus meeting scheduled for early this afternoon.

“During the past few days, a majority of the members of the Texas House have agreed that we need a new Speaker and most have stated that they would prefer the selection of a new Speaker upon adjournment of the Regular Session rather than by placing a call on the Speaker during the session.”

Keffer also challenged incumbent Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick to publicly join with him in committing to a three-term Speaker limit.

“In my opinion, Speaker Craddick needs to announce that he will not seek another term and let the members pursue a new Speaker’s race,” said Keffer. “However, if Craddick does pursue another term, I will aggressively challenge him and will welcome others to also enter the Speaker’s race.”

Keffer also said he will pursue a House Resolution for a three-term limit for the Speaker’s office to ensure that the power of the Speaker’s office is used for the purpose of public service and nothing more.

Craddick was first elected House Speaker in 2003 and is currently serving his third term that he narrowly won after a strong challenge by Plano Republican Brian McCall and Waxahachie Republican Jim Pitts this past January.

Since Craddick took over as Speaker, Republicans have lost 7 seats in the Texas House and several Democrats who have supported Craddick have been defeated in Democratic primaries. Craddick has also been the first Speaker in over 35 years to be over-ruled on a point of order by the Texas House membership which occurred in early May. Upon completion of the current term, Craddick will have served 40 years in the Texas House.

“I am committed to the three-term limit and if elected by my colleagues I am committed to being a Republican House Speaker in a Republican majority who will honor the rules, respect each member’s district, and pass good public policy.”

Keffer’s consultant is Brian Eppstein, who has done many Republican legislative races and has a considerable number of clients in the Legislature. Eppstein made a good decision to have Keffer announce today, when the Resistance seemed to have lost a little steam. The tactic of committing to a three-term limit is a shrewd move. It forces Craddick to (a) quit or (b) show his hand about staying on, in which case members know that their path to advancement will be blocked, and their path to reelection will be bloody.

I heard yesterday that a group of Republicans was talking about forming a delegation to go to Craddick and ask him to … well, it wasn’t clear what they were going to ask him to do. Step down? Agree not to run again? I’m not sure they themselves had decided. Since Keffer is running not to replace Craddick immediately but for the term that begins in January 2009, the group doesn’t have to decide anything right now.

The basic rules of engagement still apply. Craddick is at his most vulnerable while the Legislature is in session. If he can get past May 28, he will own the interim. He will have the time to do favors for some members and to recruit candidates and raise money against others. As the sitting speaker, he will have an edge in getting the support of the candidates to be freshmen for the class of 09. He will be able to bring his money (at least $4 million) and that of big Republican donors to bear in primary races against anyone who doesn’t commit to him. Some Rs might blame Keffer for getting them primary opponents and give their support to Craddick. Some might declare for Craddick early to avoid getting primary opponents. If Keffer can get the votes, the Resistance needs to move to vacate the chair before sine die. A former speaker trying to get back to power doesn’t have the clout that a sitting speaker has.